We The Makers: A Plea for A Code of Ethics Online

a plea for ethics online, makers code of ethics, pinterest ethics

With the rapidly spreading concerns about Pinterest (and by association visual sites like Tumblr, weheartit, etc…) revisiting our ethics theme couldn’t be more timely. There is a global push towards expecting ethical behaviour from the businesses we support and wanting to build our own with integrity. Makers are deciding to be educated, read fine print, and expect rapid real-time engagement on concerns or questions. When questions are not responded to, negative press spreads like wildfire. Silence has become brand suicide.

We’ll be diving into specific issues with Pinterest this month and why some of us, myself and contributor Isa of Noisette Marketing included, have deleted our boards after considering the terms of service + impact of Pinterest and realizing we couldn’t in good conscience agree. Download some of my resource list of links right here if you want to follow my sleuthing. But before we get into any of that I want to start at the heart of the problem and propose a solution inspired by the LINKwithlove Pinterest Project. I think the issues with Pinterest are part of a larger ethical question: how we the makers of content want our images used online and how we wish to be treated by users of our content. 

All we’re asking, is for a little respect (just a little bit)

It is not selfish or arrogant to ask for our work to be shared responsibly or to want people to ask permission before sharing an image unless we have made our own terms for sharing clear already. We work hard to create original content and many of us feed families, pay mortgages, health insurance, and utilities with our earnings.  We love making the internet beautiful and our work shared but we want respect and credit in exchange. This is fair and reasonable.

I feel internet users are divided into two groups: makers of content and consumers of content.

As makers of content it is our job to set limits and boundaries for how our work is used. I think we need to stop reacting to new services like Pinterest, Heartsy, Tumblr and so on and have a plan of action or at least guidelines for what we do/do not want before everything goes squirrelly. We might not agree on every point, that is where discussion comes in, but we can lay out some basic principles. We can hold each new business up to that code to see if it is true to those values. We could work together to encourage existing businesses or start ups to consider our wishes before they develop their service. Saving everyone a lot of heartbreak, or at least that is the hope. The 5 core ethics for OMHG are openness, compassion, community,  respect and responsibility, these are the principles that have always led everything we do but I finally published them right here. This new ethics page will eventually be a home for an ongoing library of resources for makers on ethics (anyone want to volunteer for that?).

While it would be nice if content consumers educated themselves about how we want images used and stood up for our rights, it really is up to us as the creators and the ones who care deeply. It just isn’t realistic to expect pinners to thoroughly read terms of use, or tumblrs to care about asking permission, if you read the comments on almost all of these posts there are always people who don’t or won’t. What I suggest we do is co-operate to make sure services and sites that profit from our content have built in protection and policies for sharing of our work.

Make crediting a built in rather then relying on users, make services opt-in always, have companies engage makers from the beginning. We need to expect accountability from the companies who create these services from the ground up. If Pinterest had reached out to a core group of influential content producers to brainstorm and develop a policy for best practices and then crafted their terms of use to be in the best interest of makers (not just protecting themselves from liability) we would still be talking about their innovation not how intensely disappointed we are. Entrepreneurs take note!

Maybe this current wave of questioning about the ethics of Pinterest can be a lesson to us all in the power of acting with intention vs. reacting to a crisis. I have started us off by writing up my own plea to the internet for what I think makers can reasonably expect from users of their content.

Now it is our turn…

It is up to us to work together-share this, pin it, tumble it, tweet it, add your voice to the comments, write or design your own. Imagine the internet a more compassionate place, what does that look like to you? What do you think needs to be in our code of ethics as makers and producers of content? What is your own code of ethics? The more we talk and consider the closer we get to building a better online community. Encourage makers worldwide weigh in to share their concerns and ideas for a collective makers code of ethics, our vision for an internet that respects those who work so hard to make it wonderful. 

At the end of March I will put our main recommendations into something we can hopefully sign in large numbers and present to Pinterest, Tumblr, weheartit, and the next new big internet thing. Why wait for someone else to fix things? Lets take it into our own hands and make it clear we are unified, supportive of each other, and willing to take positive action to protect our community. If we can stand up to support a free internet we can come together as creatives to decide what is most important to us. There are some sites that are already working towards this like LINKwithLove who do a great job encouraging users and bloggers to share intellectual property with respect. I hope we can build on that to make a clear guideline that large numbers of us can adopt and spread.

We want sites like Pinterest, we just don’t want them at the expense of ethics and rights as makers. Maybe if we make this clear enough we can encourage the next new thing (or Pinterest itself, how lovely that would be) to think first and plan ahead to create a code of ethics instead of asking forgiveness after. As creatives we have more power then ever before.

Be heard and craft a code of ethics so we can go back to happily making (and ethically sharing) all the pretty things we love. 

Leave your comments and ideas below-I can’t wait to see your thoughts on a makers code of ethics.

Calling all makers! Hear & be heard-work together to craft a code of ethics for sharing our content online @ohmyhandmade <tweet it!

PS. Ben & the Pinterest team + anyone wanting to talk this out, we meet every week on Twitter at our #omhg chats-want to plan a real time chat? We’ll bring a willingness to listen and share + cake (no we won’t throw it at you). 


  1. Pamela says:

    Hear! Hear! I’ve had my concerns about Pinterest for a while now. I love the concept of sharing BUT there are so many pins without original links.

    This is fast becoming my favorite community. Keep talking. I’m listening.

  2. Georgia says:

    While i totally agree with what you are trying to establish with your code of ethics, I am concerned with the writing of this document. It is badly written, and there are points where I am not able to understand what is intended. I would have pinned it straight away, except for that. I joined pinterest, feeling the pressure to keep up with these sites in order to help grow my (very small and beginning) business. I had no idea that everything I pinned was going to be broadcast on my personal face book page ( another site I see as a necessary evil). I hate having that kind of thing out of my control. I will be following this debate with a lot of interest

    • Jessika says:

      Hi Georgia, that is why I am calling out to YOU to collaborate on writing a code that you can accept. I would never presume to speak for the world or for other makers. This was my draft-if you feel it is badly written or misleading in anyway please clarify here and I am happy to make changes. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

  3. Jessika, thanks so much for this blog post. I stand and applaud you!!

    @Georgia, your ‘pins’ are only broadcasted on Facebook if you use Facebook to sign into your Pinterest account. If you go to the log in at Pinterest and scroll down a bit, you’ll see where it’s possible to log in WITHOUT using Facebook – thereby stopping the automatic broadcasting.

    Thanks again, Jessika. This ethics issue is near and dear to my heart. Well done!

    • Jessika says:

      @Janet-Thank you!!! I think bringing up questions of ethics is the best tool we have to make our community more compassionate & safer for everyone who works hard to share their creative talents with the world.

      @Lisa-the problem is that we should have to install a bit of code to JOIN Pinterest not to opt-out. It isn’t responsible for anyone to force the entire internet to participate when they could develop their services to be opt-in. We realize as makers that when we share our work on the internet we loose a great deal of control-this isn’t about being uppity but about creating an internet where we can share work AND still get credit. Its not that we don’t want our work shared, we just want it done in a more ethical way that protects our creative rights.

      @Isa-so thankful for your comment. It is amazing to me how dismissive people are of creative rights or downright hostile about them even. I think people would feel very different if their personal photos were taken and used for advertising without credit or asking for permission. Imagine seeing your birth photos on a billboard somewhere! It is easy for people to dismiss something that doesn’t impact them which is why I think we need to go straight to the source of the issues in large numbers. It always saddens me when other creatives are dismissing as well-just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean that the other persons concerns should be completely ignored. Hopefully the more we have respectful conversations about what we want/don’t want the better equipped we will be to find solutions. Oh, did you see about Pinspire yet???

  4. Lisa says:

    My problem with Pinterest is having to sign up on Facebook. I create at home and work and love reading blogs. I also email with people I choose to email with, same goes with sharing pictures of my children. I signed up on Pinterest to keep my interests in order. I do find it odd that people who choose to share with the world wide web get uppity when they feel they have no control. Kind of like people who twitter their every move and feel the need for privacy. Up to now everyone was loving Pinterest then the word started spreading about the fine print. If I understand correctly you can use a button so that no one can Pin you, just as you can use the privacy buttons on Facebook.

  5. Isa Maria says:

    I love your passion for this topic Jessika! The creative community need someone like you to pull us altogether to get our voices heard. I think people just don’t realise (or maybe they don’t want to realise) how important this matter is to the people who create the content. I’ve been shocked by comments I’ve seen, even from other creatives. Like you have pointed out this goes beyond one site, it is important to get the world listening to what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to sharing other people’s work. After Pinterest there will be others and it’s up to us to stand up and be counted NOW before it becomes a free for all, making it even harder than it already is to get people to value our art.

  6. concerned says:

    So, why does a site that professes ‘for the good of all’ and ‘let me opt’ have imbedded script(s) and at least 1 tracking cookie (AddThis) which calls addthis.com.

    • Jessika says:

      What embedded scripts? Please explain! I don’t profess to be for the good of all or to have all (or any) of the answers, only to be community focused, open, compassionate, respectful and responsible. I want to open the doors for us to have these discussions together in a respectful way. Please explain to me how having addthis forces anyone to opt in? If you can give me a detailed explanation I am happy to have our designers make changes.

  7. Stacey says:

    I feel like I’m stuck between a rock & a hard place – I support Pinterest and yet I’m a creative/maker/artisan/whathaveyou who supports the ethical use of our works on the internet.

    I understand the concerns over Pinterest; I also understand that they’ve probably been caught completely off guard by this whole issue, as well as the sudden growth of their site. So I sent them an email, offering my support and raising my concerns. And my concerns are the same as yours, don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to say ‘Oh, who cares? Just let people pin what they want to’, because my work is at risk of being copied and stolen too.

    I’ve had my work copied, stolen and mis-attributed before, when I was a graphic designer. I’ve had work used by major corporations without so much as a ‘thank you’ and have had my work used in publications I would never have approved of. Did it suck? Yep. It still does. But the fact remains, it happened and it’ll happen again. Creative and intellectual theft has been happening for years.

    I do think this code of ethics is a step in the right direction, with some tweaking. I want to continue supporting my fellow artists’ works as well as having support given to me, but that may mean we all don’t agree on every single point down to the last detail. Such is life, especially one lived in a free society such as ours.

    With that said, I’m going to settle in for a day of reading my new favourite book, Austin Kleon’s ‘Steal Like An Artist’. Have a good Monday 🙂

    • Jessika says:

      @Stacey I started out supporting Pinterest too-I sent a letter detailing my concerns and research, I have sent tweets and left comments. No one has responded to my concerns either privately or publicly. THAT is what made my decision to delete my boards. A simple acknowledgement by Pinterest about the concerns being raised, a willingness to have a conversation with users and public recognition of the issues would have gone a LONG way to resolving this from the beginning. I for one am completely willing to hear their side and be objective + reasonable but they have to give us that opportunity and respect. Yes, creative and intellectual theft has been happening for years-so have many social ills that I hope we continue to work on changing. Of course it will happen again and again but maybe if we start being more proactive vs reactive in our responses + have service platforms like Pinterest taking accountability for setting clear standards for image sharing we can continue sharing but in a way that doesn’t encourage stealing/blatant copying. I would love to see your thoughts on tweaking/additions to a makers code of ethics. I hope this is something we can create together!

  8. Stephanie Douglas says:

    A well written, important awareness raising piece. Thank you.!

    A manifesto for creative ethics that can be built on by the creative community! What a great idea and wonderful concept.

    You dissemination of the issues is great and I wish more people understood the ethical questions behind some sites. I’ve been to a number of workshops on social media and the small entrepreneur and unfortunately, none of them have raised any questions about the possible ethical implications of some sites. This has left me thinking that too many people just aren’t aware of how their work/images are being used.

    You have started a very important conversation that I hope gains momentum – As you state, it’s better to have the conversation before hand rather than in reaction to events.

  9. Geri says:

    @georgia While everyone has their opinion and we live in a society where sharing those opinions are welcomed, I feel that you were a bit harsh in stating unequivocally that this was a badly written piece.

    Perhaps you are new to Jessika & Oh My! Handmade Goodness, but she has been working on this issue for quite some time now and is simply trying to raise awareness of this issue, not only for her own concerns, but for those of us in the handmade & small business nation.

    The fact that you were unaware of how to restrict your “Pins” from automatically being posted to your Facebook page simply underlines the need for artists and small business owners to read the Terms of Service/Use for these types of sites.

    You do have control. You do have a voice.

    That’s all that Jessika was trying to say with this (I think) extremely well-written and thorough article.

    I say this with compassion & a kind voice – I’m not bashing you – I’m just a big fan of this community & Jessika’s hard work 😉

    I haven’t deleted my boards on Pinterest and have written my own post on the subject as to why, but I completely agree with the need to get to the bottom of this hot-bed issue and having the owners of Pinterest weigh in would be invaluable to their survival.

    Jessika, I LOVE that you invited them to the next #omhg tweet chat – hopefully, they’ll take you up on it!

    • Jessika says:

      Thank you so very much for your comment and support Geri-I love how you might have differing views from mine but you feel comfortable sharing anyway and are willing to hear my perspective. To me that is what community is all about-we don’t have to all agree, in fact that would be horrible, but if we come from a place of respect we can learn + grow from the experience. I am grateful for your willingness to address the less than warm + fuzzy comment with kindness!

      ‘You do have control. You do have a voice. That’s all that Jessika was trying to say with this (I think)’

      YES! Exactly! I don’t want to be the thought police or the sole authority of how makers want content shared, that would be completely counterintuitive to my ethics. Nobody can speak for all of us, we are diverse & have diverse ideas/talents/beliefs/dreams, thank goodness for that! If anyone has ideas to share, don’t like my code and want to remake it, have a differing opinion, then hooray! My only goal is to offer a constructive solution to an issue that keeps coming up in not-so-positive ways.

      Wouldn’t it be so awesome if the Pinterest crew or Tumblr etc…came to our chat or hosted their own to crowd source solutions with makers? We can but hope!

  10. Nanako says:

    One of the things I’ve come to admire about Jessika is how supportive she is of the people here in this creative community. I always look forward to visiting this site as I know I’ll find an engaging topic to chew on. As a leader, I see her willingness to explore a variety of topics while remaining open to different view points. But most importantly, I see her treating each person who comments here with respect + kindness. If I did not agree with something Jessika had written, I know she would hear me. But I also know that I would show her the same respect she has + would offer to me. In this way, through our respect for one another we would have harmony despite our differences.

    I applaud you Jessika for taking a bold stand on an issue that is ‘charged’. I see you starting a discussion, a conversation, a place for people to share their thoughts. You have clearly identified the problem, “how we the makers of content want our images used online and how we wish to be treated by users of our content.” The solution is much like the creative process – it’s evolving, but if you don’t start somewhere, you’ll get nowhere. Unless, of course, one enjoys the drama of complaining + being unhappy. By focusing on the solution (and not the problem), there is great potential for change.

    For me, it boils down to this – do I value myself + my work enough to take a stand? I do.

  11. Tracey says:


    Thank you for taking this topic by the horns and starting a much-needed code of ethics. I think you did an admirable job of shedding light on our responsibility as creators and consumers.

    I think what so many people fail to recognize is the true price of unethical sharing. Why is it so difficult to accurately pin an item or give credit where credit is due? If more people shared by properly citing their sources the creator would be rewarded for doing what they do best: creating. The consumer would be rewarded because they would know where to find an item they love and adore.

    Unfortunately, those who thumb their nose; who don’t have time; and who don’t see the importance discredit the process, the profitability and the potential for future brilliance.

    It’s interesting to read through the comments here and see the emotion on both sides of this fence. I truly don’t understand any argument for not sharing ethically other than a selfish desire to present yourself as the genius behind someone’s hard work. And that’s sad.

    • Jessika says:

      @Nanako-reading your comment feels like winning an Academy Award-if nothing else comes from writing this post I am thankful to read how you feel safe sharing here-regardless of agreement. Nothing is more important for me or more rewarding. ‘The solution is much like the creative process – it’s evolving, but if you don’t start somewhere, you’ll get nowhere. Unless, of course, one enjoys the drama of complaining + being unhappy. By focusing on the solution (and not the problem), there is great potential for change.’
      I see so much response to negativity online-we seem to be drawn to conflict/crisis/online wildfires, we respond with the greatest passion when something is about to be taken away or our perceived rights infringed on-I would love to see us take positive action in the same numbers & unity. If we can set aside our differences in favor of our similarities anything is possible!

      @Tracey-‘what so many people fail to recognize is the true price of unethical sharing’ I couldn’t agree with you more! As a member of our community I come into direct contact with the makers affected, hear their distress/sadness & read about their fears. When users treat such concerns with dismissal it creates anger & resentment & breeds conflict. This is why I think it is so important for us to have some kind of document we can sign and bring directly to the services who by their nature encourage sharing of content in a way so many creatives are concerned about. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

      @Diane-Without a doubt the silence is what is most distressing! Could you imagine if we just didn’t engage at ALL with our followers/commenters if they had concerns? We’de loose our communities sooooo fast. It also just seems so counter-intuitive to how social media works, the whole point is responsiveness. I fear that their response to this situation might be too little too late. Remaining hopeful!

      @Kerry-thanks for your comment! I find it baffling that Pinterest has not responded publicly to ANYONE. I’m small beans online but there are some really influential people raising these concerns but still no statement or ‘we’re working on it’ or ‘hello! we hear you we’ll respond by…’makes an excellent point for all start-ups having a crisis response plan from the outset.

      @Sarah-there is something WE can do about it! We have power in numbers-the more we work together to create an internet community that watches out for each other and supports innovation + integrity the more we make it difficult for people with less than stellar ethics to get away with stuff. I don’t think it is productive to spend all our time worrying about copying/enforcing copyright AT ALL but if we are proactive & keep raising these issues I believe that those ethical issues will occur with less regularity.

  12. Sister Diane says:

    Jessika, my hat is off to you. This is a beautifully positive and productive take on the Pinterest (Tumblr, etc.) issue, addressing the larger behavioral concerns and the need for better social memes on the web.

    I completely agree, it’s the complete silence of Pinterest in this moment that was the last straw for me. I deleted my account this morning.

  13. Kerry says:

    I really like that you have taken the time to support makers by creating this ethics code and leaving it open for tweaking and improvement by the very people you created it for.

    I have always pinned other peoples images on Pinterest and had not had to worry about my own content not being protected. Since I work for a website that promotes creatives I want o make sure I can help them and their work thrive and stay protected.

    I am confused by the fact that you have not received any response from Pinterest. I will be following this closely.

    Thank you for your passion!

  14. Sarah Silks says:

    I LOVE Pintrest! But am concerned about the ethics.

    I DESPISE being copied (our playsilks, rainbow silks, streamers, fairy skirts, wings, garlands and more) have all been copied over and over again, mostly by Etsy makers. They are all over the internet. There is nothing I can do about it.

    Yes, it upsets me.
    Yes it is unfair.

    I’m currently reading
    Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
    He has an interesting perspective:
    copy copy copy for yourself
    then synthesize that into original
    I like it!

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